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Ministers in Oxford
by Harold Pollins
Originally published in Oxford Menorah Magazine, issue 211, June 2014, pages 14-15
For the first 70 years, from the start of the Oxford Jewish community, in the early 1840s, there was a string of men who acted as ‘ministers’. Insofar as they were generally young, in their early twenties, were often new immigrants, were poorly paid, often had secular occupations as well, and did not last long, they were characteristic of many such ministers in various communities in Britain. It was often said that when a new community was established the first religious functionary they wanted was a shochet who, by killing animals in accordance with Jewish law, would provide the requisite meat. The person appointed would often also act as chazzan, be a teacher to the children, and to lead services.
David Lewis, in his The Jews of Oxford, listed 18 ministers between the foundation of the congregation in the 1840s and the First World War, six of them in the 1880s. He also lists Rev (eventually Rabbi) Weinberg who officiated during and just after the Second World War. In a number of cases David Lewis could only give approximate dates of ministers’ appearance in Oxford, their entry in his list accompanied by question marks. Unfortunately he gives few sources for his information, although several details are given in the text of his book, but one can find information about some of them from items in the Jewish Chronicle, from the Census, and notices of births (of their children). Even so, I have been unable to trace one in Lewis’s list, S. G. Solomon, said to have been there some time in the 1890s. Although no date is given, he appears in Lewis’s list after J. B. Zaccheim and before Solomon Radnitzki (spelled variously). Zaccheim first surfaces in 1893, officiating at the first marriage in the Oxford synagogue, and left Oxford in 1895 to go to Tredegar. Radnitzki officiated at Oxford as early as October 1895, just 3 months after Zaccheim left. It is unlikely that there was another minister in Oxford. named Solomon, during those 3 months. I would hesitate to say that David Lewis had made a mistake, but I can’t find Solomon.
Moreover, Lewis appears to have missed three ministers. I was alerted to the first by Michael Jolles. He was Isidore Simon, born in 1849, came to Britain in 1867, and is said, in his obituary in the JC 1922, to have first served as minister at Oxford. Could this have been some time between 1867 and 1870 (when Samuel Kronson was first reported in office)? He went to Manchester in the early 1870s, but I doubt if he ministered to Oxford in 1870-1 while Kronson was there, as it is unlikely that Oxford could have afforded two ministers.
Samuel Kronson (mis-spelt as Kronsow in the JC, in 1870), and described as ‘Jewish clergyman’ in the 1871 Census, was a ‘jeweller’ at his wedding in Oxford in 1872, and was still there in December 1875 when the second of his two sons was born, and described as a general dealer. Before then he was apparently succeeded by the second man missing from Lewis’s list. The JC in January 1875 reported that Rev. Manovitzs(sic), of Oxford, had been elected to serve the Exeter congregation. His name was clarified, in a JC note of July 1876, which referred to Rev. Marcus Manovitz of Exeter.
The third ‘missing’ man is a slight mystery. David Lewis refers to the fact that, in reference to ministerial activities, ‘some help was given by B. Lieberman[sic], a Jews’ College graduate, who was up at Worcester reading Oriental Languages from 1910 to 1912’. However, the Jewish Chronicle stated on 28 October 1910 that ‘Mr. B. Liebermann[sic], B.A., has been appointed Minister of the Oxford Hebrew Congregation’. He had just passed ‘the Jews’ College Third Theological Examination, qualifying him for the Jewish Ministry’, had preached in various London synagogues and had taught at a Hebrew Classes. However, in May 1912 he was one of five undergraduate signatories of a letter to the JC advocating either a Chair to be established or ‘provision be made for the residence of a Jewish minister’ – thus implying there was not one. And the JC published a long interview with him (described as ‘acting Minister of the Oxford Hebrew Congregation’), on ‘The Needs of Oxford’. In it he argued against a minister but in favour of a Lecturer or Reader in Rabbinics. This is in fact what happened shortly afterwards.
While many of the ministers did not last long in Oxford, a few stayed for longer periods. One of the early ones, Nathan Jacobs, was there from 1845 to 1858 when he moved to south Wales, where he continued ministering. One who came to Oxford at the age of 20 in 1882 was B. J. Salomons, who eventually became minister at the Montefiore synagogue in Ramsgate. Their later lives can sometimes be traced. Samuel Kronson was in Wolverhampton in 1881 then settled for some years in Northampton as a leather agent. In the 1920s he was in the USA where he was described as a Rabbi. Marks Rosenthal was in Oxford in 1878 and left for east London where he was a furrier. Samuel Million, in Oxford in 1887, where a son was born in the following year, then also went to east London where he was described in the 1891 Census as a ’poultry killer’, thus continuing his occupation as shochet. He died in 1899 and his widow became a drapery hawker. Louis Abrahamson (said by Lewis to have gone to Rhyl from Oxford but in fact, in December 1900, was at Wrexham and went to Rhyl a few months later), by 1911 was in Liverpool where his occupation was also a shochet, employed by the Liverpool Shechita Board (the Census enumerator had amended his description to ‘Jewish Butcher’).
The last minister before the First World War was Moses H. Segal, father of Lord Segal, who was appointed minister and shochet in May 1901 and left in 1908. The next minister was Jacob Weinberg who was appointed to minister to the enlarged congregation during the Second World War. But one man is well worth recording – Herbert Loewe – who was elected in 1913 to Exeter College but subsidised by outside contributors, primarily to look after the spiritual needs of the undergraduates. He was away in the army in the First World War but was in Oxford until 1931.
Jacob Weinberg left Oxford in 1948 but during the war there had been a Rev Isaac Joshua Kibel in the town, known mainly from his adverts as a mohel (circumciser) in the Jewish Chronicle. More relevantly, was Rev Irving Chazen, after the war, who certainly taught the children of the community. But while there have been rabbis in Oxford – for students, and Chabad – there has been no minister formally attached to the congregation. The usual explanation is that since the community consciously embraces different strands of Judaism, it would be difficult to get one man to cater for all.
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